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Ulster coach Kiss hails Piutau's Player of Year honour

 

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulster's Charles Piutau was last named as the Guinness PRO12's Player of the Year at a gala dinner in Dublin's Guinness Storehouse.

The All Black winger has excelled in his first season at Kingpan Stadium, scoring nine tries in 23 games after his much anticipated move and was voted as the league's top player by a panel of his peers.

On his first season in the league, Piutau, who collected his award with a heavily strapped finger after an injury picked up against Leinster on Saturday, was humbled to to be acknowledged by the league's captains who cast the vote.

"To be honoured by your fellow players is unbelievable. My first season in Belfast, I think what I'll remember is meeting my new team-mates and the team's supporters.

"But as players and coaches, we'll take our learnings from this season and hope to be better next season."

With both Piutau and Ruan Pienaar also named in the Pro12 team of the year, there was further reward for Ulster as a squad with Pienaar's score at home against Glasgow recognised as the Try of the Year.

Former Auckland Blues and Wasps man Piutau has one year left on his deal in Belfast with Director of Rugby Les Kiss saying the province would love to extend his current contract.

"He's proven to people that he's a man of his word," said Kiss, referencing Piutau's decision to move north when a current member of the All Blacks, costing him a place in the victorious 2015 World Cup squad.

"He made the decision and he's not one to second guess that. When he was at Wasps, there was a big thing to get him to stay but he's been committed to the contract he signed and he's committed to Ulster.

"Going forward, that's another decision for him. Any club would love to have him and we'd love to have him for longer.

"It'll become more apparent next year. He's been quality for us and one or two moments in one game won't define his year. He's always the opposition's main focus and at times that can take him out of a game but you can't contain him for long."

The award capped a fine weekend for Piutau who was also voted the Bank of Ireland Ulster Rugby Player of the Year at the team's own awards on Saturday night at Aquinas Grammar School, Belfast.

Other winners on the night were Sean Reidy, who was voted Ulster Rugby Writers' Player of the Year, and Jacob Stockdale who picked up the gong for best young player.

There was also an emotional farewell for Ruan Pienaar who was awarded the Heineken Personality of the Year at the ceremony attended by his father Gysie Pienaar and long-time friend and team-mate Johann Muller.

Saturday's win over Leinster was the 88-times capped Springbok's last game in an Ulster jersey after seven years of never to be forgotten service.

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